The Hebrew participle translated “deputy” (nits·tsavʹ) has the basic meaning of one “stationed,” ‘put in position,’ or “set” by appointment to fulfill a duty. (1Sa 22:9; Ex 7:15; Ru 2:5) During the reign of Solomon (1037-998 B.C.E.), 12 deputies were appointed to high-ranking administrative positions. Each was responsible for providing food and other supplies for the royal household one month during the year, on a rotational basis.—1Ki 4:7.
In lieu of a general tax for the support of the government, foodstuffs were taken from the produce of the land. The deputies were therefore overseers of production, harvesting, storage, and delivery of the monthly quotas, which amounted to a considerable tonnage. (1Ki 4:22, 23) These deputies may also have served as civil administrators in their assigned territories, in addition to their work of supervising the commissary supplies.
There was equity in this system, for it appears that the districts were set up with due consideration to population and productivity of the land, rather than according to the fixed tribal boundaries. Nine of the administrative districts were located W of the Jordan; the other three, E. Since the listing of the districts is not in any sequence according to location, they may be listed according to the monthly order in which each deputy furnished his supplies.
The personal names of only seven deputies are given in the Masoretic text; the other five are listed only as “son of” so-and-so. (1Ki 4:8-19) Some translations (AS; AT; 3Ki, Dy; Ro; RS) simply prefix “Ben” (meaning “son of”) to the father’s name, as “Ben-hur,” “Ben-deker,” “Ben-hesed,” “Ben-abinadab,” “Ben-geber.” So that all ran smoothly, with no shortages, the 12 deputies were placed under the supervision of one of Solomon’s leading princes, “Azariah the son of Nathan.”—1Ki 4:5.
“Princely deputies” also served as foremen and overseers of the labor force engaged in construction during Solomon’s reign. It seems that the two accounts of these deputies in First Kings and Second Chronicles differed only in methods of classification, the first listing 3,300 plus 550 for a total of 3,850 (1Ki 5:16; 9:23), and the second giving 3,600 plus 250, which also totals 3,850. (2Ch 2:18; 8:10) Scholars (Ewald, Keil, Michaelis) suggest that the Chronicles figures distinguish between the 3,600 non-Israelite and the 250 Israelite deputies, whereas in Kings the distinction in deputies is between 3,300 subordinate foremen and 550 chief supervisors, this latter figure including 300 non-Israelites.
During the rule of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (936-c. 911 B.C.E.), “a deputy was king” in Edom, which, at the time, was under Judean control. (1Ki 22:47) This indicates that a vicegerent had been appointed or approved to act in the place of the king.
“Deputy rulers” (Heb., segha·nimʹ, always used in the plural) occurs 17 times in the Bible, as, for example, at Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 2:16; Isaiah 41:25; Jeremiah 51:23; and Ezekiel 23:6. It meant subordinate rulers or petty officials, as distinguished from nobles, princes, and governors. Some translators render it “deputies.”—Mo, Ro.